By: June Chua
The official fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany was 27 years ago today — signalling the end of the Cold War and a divided country. On Nov. 9, 1989, a spokesman for East German’s Communist Party announced that citizens of the GDR were free to cross into the West.
Checkpoint Charlie — the key crossing point guarded by American soldiers in Berlin — opened up. Statistics from the Berlin-Brandenburg state, last count being in 2013, pegs the figure at 14,831 Americans living in the German capital. That number is double to what it had been 10 years previous.
U.S. election night was a tense one for Americans gathered in cafes, bars and apartments all over Berlin to watch the results. While many managed to mail in their ballots, some of them didn’t end up voting. Yahoo Canada News reached out to a few Americans to gauge their reaction to the results.
Americans who voted
Today will not be a celebratory one for American Joy Mitchell who moved to Berlin from Los Angeles two years ago. Walls and borders — real or virtual — are now up.
“There was a growing sense of hopelessness as I watched the [returns] on TV with my friends in my apartment,” said Mitchell, who is a scriptwriter for a German TV series.
“I spoke to my mom, who lives in LA, and she’s very religious. She said: ‘All we can do is pray for the future.’ Yep, that’s it.”
The 31-year-old writer voted for Clinton. She is scared for the people whom Trump and his supporters have openly marginalized.
“The minorities or the LGTBQ people and the hate crimes are going to go up. I mean there are crazy, white men with guns in the U.S. and if you are one of these people [who don’t fit Trump’s America] you could genuinely be in danger.”
Mitchell, who identifies as a Black American, said she would be wary of even driving across the U.S. considering many of the states in the middle voted red.
“I’ve driven across the country seven times now and with this result, I’d have to see which counties voted red and make sure not to get gas there,” she told Yahoo Canada News.
Mitchell noted that the Canadian immigration website went down.
“I actually feel people will migrate this time to Canada. With George W. Bush it was different — he was that stupid boy in class that the teacher liked for some reason [but with Trump] it’s different. It’s dangerous,” she said. “There was racism then but now, people are bolder.”
Mitchell, who was born in L.A. and grew up there, said she had problems with voting. As an overseas American, she registered in Berlin at the embassy in order to be mailed her ballot. She never got it. Many of her American friends in Europe and Berlin did. When she returned in October for a visit, she discovered that the ballot had been mailed to her mother’s address in L.A. She filled out the forms and mailed it in while in California.
Adam Groffman, also in his early 30s, is recovering from shock and was “anxious for some good news.”
“I am deeply saddened and scared and hopeless,” said Groffman, a travel writer and blogger. “There are a lot of people who have a right to be worried … Trump has said things that can’t be unsaid.”
Groffman, who voted for Hillary by mail-in ballot to Texas, said the attack at the Orlando Pulse nightclub terrified him but “yesterday’s election result frightens me too.”
“Over time, I really came to respect and admire Hillary Clinton. I was honestly excited and motivated by the idea we would elect our first female president,” said Groffman, who moved to Berlin in 2011.
Groffman said he feels vulnerable now.
“As a gay man, as a foreigner in another country, as a traveller.”
Meanwhile, Mitchell was a little tired after having been awake throughout the night and morning. She was about to hit the sack, finally, at 11 a.m. Berlin time.
“The irony that I’m living in Germany [with its fascist past] is not lost on me,” she concluded. “I tell my American friends that in Europe, I feel free to be myself. All we get in the U.S. is a narrative of Germany focussed on the Second World War or the Cold War. But here the guilt has been ingrained and they are sensitive to people who are different.”
Mitchell says in the U.S. issues of slavery and civil rights haven’t gotten their proper due.
“I’m glad I’m not [back home]. I’ve been on the fence about living here but now, I’m not. It’s time to learn German.”
Americans who didn’t vote
Christine Seraphin, a singer/songwriter and educator from Connecticut, made a conscious decision for the first time in her life, not to vote. And she stands by that decision.
“I’m terrified about the outcome,” she told Yahoo Canada News. “I did not feel represented by either of the presidential candidates and cannot stand behind ‘the lesser of two evils’… A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect.”
Seraphin, who recently married her German boyfriend and has been in Berlin for seven years, said the two-party system in the U.S. is “out-dated and broken.” However, she remains concerned about the inequalities of people of colour in the U.S., its foreign policy and the lack of accessibility to education and healthcare for poorer communities.
“The U.S.A. has a lot of blood on its hands, being founded on genocide and slavery,” she said, listing attempts to improve people’s lives such as Black Lives Matter, the civil rights movement, the anti-poverty groups, the feminist movement etc… “How far have we truly come under this system? I won’t feed and nourish a broken system with my vote…Let’s start over.”
This morning she posted a statement asking Facebook friends who voted for Trump to unfriend her. So far, no one has.
“I can only speak my peace,” she said. “I hope the global community will actively encourage and support an upgrade to the political system in the U.S.”
Meanwhile, Daniel Foster, 26, feels much the same way. The tech start-up founder (of pixsy.com, a site for photographers to track where their work goes) moved to Berlin three years ago from Louisiana.
Foster missed the mail-in ballot deadline for Overseas Americans. He would have voted for Clinton.
“The way the electoral colleges are in Louisiana, it would not have made a difference,” he said. “I don’t think we should go around blaming people, we need to think of what’s next. I’m heartbroken as well but I want to think of what I can do to make the country better.”
Foster is worried about anyone who is “not male and white” in America.
“My best friend is Hispanic-American, I fear for him just as I fear for all my gay friends,” Foster told Yahoo Canada News.
Looking at the comparisons that are made frequently in North American media to Germany’s Nazi period, Foster points out that while the comparison is fair, “the Nazi’s succeeded only because the people accepted it. We don’t have to be passive. We can be active.”
Foster said his generation, known collectively as millennials, should stop thinking “somebody else is going to save them.”
“We need to continue to be part of the political process,” he said. “We should not isolate ourselves.”
Foster admits he lives in an “echo chamber” where all his friends have the same views and they are almost always Democrats.
“Let’s engage people outside of our social circles. I try to lead by example instead of dismissing people with negative statements. Let’s start there. It can only get better from here.”